Posted 6 years 236 days ago ago by Francis Meyrick
The first time I heard this story, I thought it was a Gulf myth. I didn't believe it. But then I saw the photographic evidence. It was kind of interesting. Irrefutable. Good grief. Yep. Many years ago, on a sunny day in the Gulf of Mexico, this event actually happened...
A helicopter 'communications center' is, if you like, is the 'eye in the head shed'. It's a large room, with lots of telephones ringing, lots of screens, and lots of people hunched over those screens, and quietly cursing the telephones. . Out there, somewhere, lots of little helicopters are plying their trade. Pilots are calling the commcenter, and the commcenter is calling pilots. Position reports, landing reports, flight plans...
Special requests. Can you contact the rig and get me a green deck? Can you check the weather for me at Houma? Is Warning Area Number 123 active today? The list goes on.
A quick thinking commcenter controller is a pilot's best friend. But not his only friend. There are many others. Fortunately. This fact was proven in an unlikely fashion on this sunny day, but before we go there, we need to step back a moment to Cameron beach. Where a nice lady is out, walking her dog. It's a pleasant walk, with the waves lapping gently on the beach. She is well used to helicopters passing over, and pays them scant attention.
Some forty five miles away, in Lake Charles, on this pleasant day, another very nice lady is sitting in the dispatcher's office of the Police Department. She is answering nine-one-one emergency calls, mostly the usual road traffic fender benders, and the occasional drunk trying to order pizza. She is wishing she was outside on this pleasant day, not cooped up in the artificial light, trying to politely get rid of deaf old Mister Murphy. He is very pleasant, but very hard of hearing. And also somewhat sozzled. He is a retired professional Welfare Recipient. A very popular trade these days. He's getting really pissed because his pizza has not turned up yet. And he wants salami on it, not pepperone like the last time. She sighs. It's just another routine day at the funny farm...
Some seventy five miles away, two more very nice, very elegant ladies are sitting at the front desk of a very large helicopter company. They are very good at smiling. That's what they are paid for. They are the beaming face, that unfailingly welcomes you the moment you walk in the front door. Whether you are a potential new customer, who is maybe going to spend millions of dollars, or just a humble working class grunt,(or, going even lower, even if you're one of those very strange dudes...) (helicopter jockeys), you still get treated to this beaming smile. No matter how many thousands of people they see, they have this uncanny knack of making you feel that you, my friend, are special. They even remember your name. Quite a feat. They know their company structure inside out, and are capable of quickly guiding any visitor graciously to the exact correct location. Theirs is a skillful job, and requires patience, good humor, organizational excellence, and the ability to instantly recognize the urgent from the mundane.
And to react accordingly.
And lastly, just up the road from Cameron beach, are some massive oil storage units, with thousands of gallons of highly volatile liquids, just quietly sitting there. Waiting... And a small office building with some very nice workers sitting there, getting through another uneventful day, pushing very important pieces of paper from one side of the desk to the other.
Helicopters come and go, around Cameron. Hundreds of the noisy little devils. There are several major bases there. Local residents hardly look up anymore. Little whirlybirds quietly announce their presence as they appear over the distant horizon. Then they get louder. Then really loud. Eventually they will clatter overhead. And get quieter again. There are so many of them, it really is a wonder that this nice lady, walking her dog along the beach, even bothered to look up. But she did. And in doing so, she set in change a remarkable series of events....
The very nice lady in the Police Department answered the next call. She was still thinking about Mister Murphy, and wondering if he would call back for the fourth time that afternoon, even madder than before, still going on about his salami. But the next call, from the nice lady on the beach, got her full attention. They spoke for barely twenty seconds, by which time the dispatcher was already grabbing for the Yellow Pages and waving at her supervisor.
The two nice ladies at the helicopter company, when one of them took the call, conferred briefly together, and patched the call straight through to comcenter.
And this is where our harassed commcenter controller came in, who was working a lot of helicopters. He had an IFR flightplan to pass on, and two helicopters were waiting for a "green deck" landing clearance. One of his least favorite captains was getting impatient for the weather at Boothville, and he had a Bell 407 with a scratchy radio who was unintelligible. Added to all this was Captain Luigi, who was a really nice dude, but his heavy Italian spaghetti basher accent was hard to follow. Captain Schmitt's German-American phraseology didn't help. And then there was the Mad Irishman causing chaos. And on top of all that.... now the phone was ringing. It was a circus again. Just one of those days. He answered the phone curtly:
The nice lady at reception said: "Excuse me, But I have an urgent call from Lake Charles for you."
The nice lady from the Police Department came on the line, and said:
"Hold on, I have a call from a lady on Cameron beach for you".
The nice lady from the beach came on. Relayed via the good services of the other nice ladies.
She sounded a little nervous and embarrassed.
"Oh no", thought the comcenter controller. "Not another noise complaint."
"Yes, Ma'am, can I help you?", he said, maybe a little brusquely. He was busy.
"Excuse me, but do you have a little yellow helicopter flying over Cameron?"
"Ma'am" spoke the controller, restraining himself with some difficulty, (another damn noise complaint).
"We have dozens of little yellow helicopters flying around all over the place."
"Oh", spoken the nice lady on the beach,walking her dog.
"It's just, well, this one is on fire".
"Yes, sir, it just passed over me, and I can see big long flames and lots of black smoke pouring out for hundreds of yards behind it. I don't think the pilot maybe knows..."
And that is why, the following call went ringing out over the airwaves. It was a most unusual call.
It kind of... got everybody's attention. It was, indeed, a clarion call.
"ANY HELICOPTER FLYING OVER CAMERON!!! LAND IMMEDIATELY!! YOU ARE ON FIRE!!"
And with that the controller was waving frantically to his supervisor.
There was a sudden silence on frequency. An awful lot of pilots were now waking up in their cockpits.
It happens occasionally, especially when there is food around.
Slowly, thought processes were beginning to get going in a whole lot of simple minds. What passes for brains.
Pilots' brains. (it takes a whole lot of food)
Everybody was thinking the same.
What kind of dozy bastard doesn't know he's ON FIRE??
Which was exactly the mindset of a Bolkow pilot, flying along quite happily on his own. On this sunny day.
As they say in pilot-speak: fat, dumb, and happy.
He looked down. Yeah, he was flying over Cameron. But it wasn't him. All his warning panel lights were out. There was no sign of any trouble. Life was good. So who was the idiot flying along on fire?
On an impulse, he craned around, looking over his shoulder, and flew a slight turn, to check behind him...
And that is why, the following call went ringing out over the airwaves. It was a most unusual call.
It kind of... got everybody's attention.
It wasn't what you would call a "clarion call". More like a yelp. High pitched. A whole octave up, I'd guess.
Mayday-Mayday-Mayday! I'M ON FIRE...!
The oil workers in their office, beside the vast storage tanks, were thinking coffee and doughnuts. The important things that keep a working man awake. And going home time of course. And maybe that lovely chick on the calendar. The one in the skimpy bathing suit.
The door burst open. It was one of the staff. He was somewhat breathless and red faced.
"There's a helicopter ON FIRE and he's coming down to land HERE!"
"He's doing WHAT!?"
There was a mad scramble for the fire extinguishers, and a stampede out the door.
The actual photos tell quite a story.
The reason the fire alarm detection system never went off, was that the system was long since burned to a crisp.
Turned into carbon. The black, black stuff. A strange irony. A contradiction in terms. A bit like an electrical fuse that doesn't fuse. Or a Democrat voting for lower taxes. Or Dolly Parton on a trampoline.
Several structural members were so weakened, that the probability of continued flight, for much longer, was about on a par with me getting a date, skate boarding, with Dolly. (Never mind, I probably would have had to calculate her center of gravity, anyway) The chance of the helicopter ever making its intended destination, Lake Charles, was exactly nil. Minus nil. The certainty existed, that very soon, in a matter of mere seconds time, our intrepid aviator would have become a test pilot. Trying to fly a machine, re-configured into a most un-aerodynamic configuration, never intended by the designer. Most probably, he would have become an unhappy, squealing part of a spectacular cloud of falling, burning shrapnel.
That this regrettable scenario never occurred, we all owe to the many friends of the helicopter pilot. Ranging from the nice lady walking her dog (a very, very nice lady), to the quick thinking lady in the Police Department in Lake Charles, to the very nice ladies at the front desk, to the fast thinking commcenter controller, to the posse with the fire extinguishers. It just makes you think how lucky we helicopter dudes are.
I guess they all feel sorry for us.
Especially for the dozy bastard flying over who doesn't know he's ON FIRE....
A Little About Moggy - Francis ‘Moggy’ Meyrick (www.chopperstories.com)
admits to not being terribly bright, but he did first grace the skies
(more or less) totally on his own some forty-five years ago. He is
rumored to have solemnly intoned these memorable words on the downwind
leg. “Holy Molly McBride! NOW what have I done…?” He is working
dutifully on his eighty-sixth incarnation (he does, admittedly, get sent
back a lot – for another try) , and he describes himself as a ‘chopper
jockey’. He says it’s basically a case of a nut, hanging under a nut.
(BIG nut, though). Compared to trying to attain Wisdom (he was a
Buddhist monk once) (before he got demoted to galley hand), he reckons
it beats working for a living. It ranks right up there with being a
happy penguin, and spending all day sliding down icy slopes. Moggy loves
spinning a good yarn, and his greatest reward is simply your enjoyment.
His many friends caution you he does tend to tell his bar stories with
verve and gusto, and much arm waving, so you are advised to move your
pints and other drinks safely out of his way. He is also the author of
“Moggy’s Tuna Manual”, a Tuna Helicopter safety initiative, available on